Published: Ecclesiastes For The Student Minister

I’ve had a piece published at Rooted Ministry today.

“Oh how comforting the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is when he reminds us that in a few years, no one will remember us! All that work and toil we’ve undertaken in our ministries will be long forgotten. The weeks and months and years of investing in people, seeking to help them know Jesus and grow in Jesus, becomes a distant memory.

It’s like the Teacher is trolling each of us.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Other published writing can be found here.

Being Pastor To A Pastor’s Kid

I’m a Pastor’s kid.

I’ve also been the Youth Pastor to the Senior Pastor’s kids.

It’s a weird situation.

I recently wrote about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship. Off the back of this a mate of mine suggested I write more specifically about dealing with a dynamic many Youth Pastors face – You’re the Youth Pastor of the Senior Pastor’s kids.

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On one hand you want to to lead the youth ministry in a way that you believe is appropriate. A way that is contextual to young people while also coming under the vision, mission and values of your church. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem.

But on the other hand, the Senior Pastor, the one you as Youth Pastor report to, has children in the youth ministry. And while they trust you and your leadership; they have an added desire to see their children come to faith under your ministry. This is not to say their children are any more important than another parent’s child, not at all. It just happens to be that your ‘direct manager’ is also a parent.

It becomes an interesting dance.

And so, it’s worth thinking through this particular topic from four perspectives.

First, the Senior Pastor perspective.

Their desire is for their children to come to know and follow Jesus. The Pastor, with their spouse, has sensed a call to the ministry. They have invested time, money, and energy into the local church. They continue to teach and counsel the members of the congregation. But, their children are special to them. They are their children! They love them, want the best for them, and over the years have been teaching them the ways of the Lord in the family context.

Like any other parent you deal with as a Youth Pastor the Senior Pastor and their spouse is no different. They have a strong desire in seeing their child come to faith in Jesus, raised well in the context of their local church, included in the church family in a way that is meaningful, and have them grow in faith.

Second, the local church perspective.

To the congregation, the children of the Senior Pastor reflect their Pastor. Depending on the context this could be a small thing or it could be quite a big thing. Either way, there is some form of reflection.

For some reason most churches believe they own the children of the Pastor and consider them one of their own. They have unsaid and unintentional expectations on how the Senior Pastor’s kids are to behave, what they should be doing, what they believe, and how much biblical knowledge they should have. Whether it is during a church service or while they’re at youth group, the church is watching them.

The church loves these children though. They give them extra servings at church lunches, a gift at Christmas, or something special for their birthday. This doesn’t come to every child in the congregation, some things are specifically for the Pastor’s kid.

In one’s most skeptical moments there is the thought that this special attention given to the Pastor’s children is solely because their parent is the key leader of the church. Most of the time this is out of love and care and concern. But, at other times this could be a way for certain members to get back at their Pastor, an attempt to bring some form of turmoil to the Pastor’s family or ministry. This is not to say that the small minority causing these issues are prevalent in every church. It’s something to be aware of.

There are expectations coming from the congregation regarding the Pastor and his family. They are often unsaid. But at the end of the day it will cause grief, not just as a parent, if the Pastor’s kid goes off the rails. It will cause the Pastor to wonder whether they are worthy of the position they are in, and this may even be voiced by some in the congregation.

Depending on what season of life the child is in will depend on how the church reacts to certain actions, beliefs and behaviours of said child. Considering we’re talking about those youth ministry years you can imagine the things going on here.

Third, the Youth Pastor perspective.

The Youth Pastor is in an interesting position. They are seeking to disciple the Senior Pastor’s children. They don’t believe they should be doing anything different for this child despite the parent being their boss. But, this is a fine balance, as they want the best for this kid, like all the others in the youth ministry.

The Youth Pastor is employed by the church and sits under the Senior Pastor. At times, whether in a Pastoral Team meeting or at a church event, the Senior Pastor will have two hats – that of parent and that of Pastor. To know which is on at which time could lead to confusion and misunderstanding if not careful.

It is also worth pointing out that the Youth Pastor may be lulled into unhealthy thinking; believing that if the Senior Pastor’s child is doing alright then they might have an ease of pressure from their superior.

At the end of the day it is worth having some clear guidelines about how to approach this. Some of the following suggestions might be helpful:

  1. Have a conversation with the Senior Pastor about dealing with their children. Just open up the conversation and see what comes of it. Often it is in having the conversation that a greater understanding of the issue can be seen. There needs to be awareness from both the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor that this topic can be a minefield and lead to conflict.
  2. Suggest that the Senior Pastor isn’t the parent that brings parenting questions to the Youth Pastor. Have a clear guideline that means the spouse of the Senior Pastor raises issues or concerns to the Youth Pastor.
  3. Work out boundaries on how much or how little to share about the Pastor’s kid. Often Youth Pastors will know stuff about the child that the Senior Pastor won’t even know.
  4. Have an advocate from outside the church come and speak to the Senior Pastor on your behalf or with you. This could be a denominational leader or simply another Pastor who you trust will mediate fairly.

Fourth, the Pastor’s kid perspective.

It’s not often we end up thinking how things might look from the Pastor’s kid perspective. As a Youth Pastor we obviously want to be aware of their needs, and the challenges they are facing in any particular season. But, who really thinks about the perspective of the Pastor’s kid? Here’s a little of what they’re thinking while they traverse church life as they go through their teen years.

  • They are aware that everyone in the church is looking at them; their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • They are aware that their parent is the key leader of the church and that his leadership is something God has ordained.
  • They are aware that they didn’t ask for this role of Pastor’s kid. They had no say in it, it just is.
  • They are aware that their coming to faith or turning from the faith has an impact on their family. Anything from parental disappointment to job loss.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor doesn’t want to show them any more special treatment than they do to others. This means it might actually be harder for them to integrate or feel comfortable in the community.
  • They are aware that the Youth Pastor is under the leadership of their parent and so can play this off if they were inclined to do so.
  • They are aware that what they say about the Youth Pastor at home might have an impact on the Youth Pastor’s relationship with their parents.
  • They are aware that they are expected to be at youth events and enjoy the youth ministry that their church has.

This can be a thorny issue for Youth Pastor’s. It is worth thinking about, at least at some level.

A terrific resource about Pastor’s kids is Barnabas Piper’s book ‘The Pastor’s Kid’. It would be useful for all Pastors and church members to read. If you’re a Youth Pastor and you haven’t thought too much about the Pastor’s kid then I’d encourage you to read this. I have written a review of the book here.

Published: Chicken Nuggets or Gospel Nuggets?

I’ve had a daily devotional published as a blog post on digisciple.me:

“Formerly I was in a place that was foolish. In this position I sought to gain pleasure for myself, looking out solely for my own needs and wants. This leads down a path that is unhelpful and unhealthy. Seeking pleasure in the wrong place, and in pursuing wrongful passions, we end up being people who are prideful, egotistical, and self-centred.”

You can read it here.

Other pieces I’ve written can be found here.

11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part two of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part one here.


As a Youth Pastor I’ve spent time under three Senior Pastors. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with them. I know I had the support of them throughout my time with them, and I also feel I supported them well, no matter the circumstances. It may well be the loyalty instinct I have within me, but I have resolved from very early on to back my Senior Pastor to the hilt.

The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic is an interesting one. It is not often talked about in public. I’ve never been to a workshop about how to relate to my Senior Pastor or been provided with much training in how to navigate this relationship. If such a workshop was ever offered at a youth ministry conference I suspect it would be highly attended.

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I say this because I believe the main reason Youth Pastors leave churches is because they don’t have a good working relationship with their superior. I don’t have any empirical evidence for this statement, but anecdotally I’ve observed the main reason for Youth Pastors moving on is breakdown in relationship with the Senior Pastor.

I spent six months in a denominational role a couple of years ago caring for Youth Pastors who were having a tough time. The topic of conversation, whenever I met with them, was their relationship with the Senior. Sometimes it was simply wanting to get things off their chest and once that was done there was a sense of freedom. Other times the relationship had broken down to the extent that the Youth Pastor decided to leave.

This is not to say the Senior Pastor is at fault. Not at all. This is not to say that all Youth Pastors leave because of this. Not at all.

But.

If the relationship between the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor is not great then it is hard to provide a healthy ministry for the church.

With this being said, what are some questions worth asking surrounding this topic? How can this working relationship improve for the betterment of the church?

First, the expectations about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship need to be set at the time of advertising the position.

A clear understanding between Senior and Youth Pastor about how they will work together is worth talking through as early as possible. It is one thing for the Youth Pastor to tick the boxes in terms of competency and character, another thing in regard to chemistry.

Being able to talk through the way the church see the position operating gives helpful insight into the working relationship. One role might be for the Youth Pastor to fulfil a set of tasks and “look after the young people”. Another role might include more oversight and leadership and therefore wider conversations with the Senior Pastor would be required.

Questions worth asking at an interview might include:

  1. How often do you expect to meet up with me as the Youth Pastor?
  2. What kind of information about the ministries I lead as Youth Pastor do you require?
  3. Do you see this Youth Pastor role as one that is mainly about fulfilling tasks or is there an element of growth to it?
  4. What kind of availability do you have (as Senior Pastor) if I would like to talk to you (as Youth Pastor)?

Second, is there a growing relationship that includes the Youth Pastor being seen as an actual ‘Pastor’?

For many years it has been common for Youth Pastors to be seen as lowly staff workers for the church. They are really just paid ministry leaders who are ‘looking after the young people’ and not really a significant voice in the life of the church. If this is the first ministry role for the Youth Pastor and they haven’t got many runs on the board then this might be a fair way of operating, as long as the training and development is also happening alongside. But for a Youth Pastor who has been in ministry for a while it might be time to explore areas where they can continue to help grow the church. This could be in pastoral care to parents and families, developing small groups, or having more teaching responsibilities. The point is, when the position is advertised and the relationship with the Senior is defined, does the Youth Pastor actually become a Pastor in the church or are they more a Youth Director or Worker?

Third, regular check-ins and one-on-ones between Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor are vital.

If I didn’t meet with my Senior Pastors I wouldn’t have developed as quickly nor would I have felt respected. Surely, a working relationship means meeting regularly with fellow pastoral team members, no matter what size the church is. In the majority case, where it is a Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor on staff, then this seems even more vital. Putting the principles of leadership and management aside, I don’t actually know how a working relationship can work when the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor don’t meet up, talk about the church and its members, check-in with how each other are going, and learn, develop and grow together. I don’t have a category for this, it seems so basic. Yet, I hear numerous times a year of Senior and Youth Pastors never meeting except on a Sunday morning or at a whole church event. Such a shame.

If there was one thing a Senior Pastor could schedule in to help the relationship it would be a regular one-on-one meet up with their Youth Pastor. If there was one thing a Youth Pastor could seek to encourage their Senior Pastor to do, it would be to meet up with them. This isn’t to add an extra to-do item, this is an opportunity for growth, development, and passing on the faith and ministry. This is an opportunity for discipleship.

I know we now live in a different era. I know that Senior Pastors of the past would operate as the sole pastor of a church. They would have a church of 200-300 people and the pastoral team would consist only of them. But times have changed, there’s more emphasis on team ministry, and the current generation of Youth Pastors coming through are crying out for mentoring, coaching, discipleship (whatever you call it) in ministry. They want to be led, and they want to follow. They want to talk about, observe and experience a variety of opportunities that will help them grow as people and as pastors.

The greatest opportunity for a Senior Pastor to have influence is through their Youth Pastor.

Fourth, is there mutual respect between the Senior and Youth Pastor?

Respect and trust within the pastoral team would seem obvious. This does develop over time, but can also be damaged along the way. This relationship doesn’t mean everyone needs to be best buddies but it should have trust and respect within it.

Ways to foster this mutual respect and trust would be to:

  • Meet regularly.
  • Take an interest in each others lives, not just about the ministry.
  • Speak positively of the other, in public meetings and private conversations with church members.
  • Share openly about the struggles and challenges of life, faith and ministry to one-another.
  • Speak clearly and directly when any disagreements arise (in private).

Fifth, understand the line of authority in the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship.

At the end of the day the Senior Pastor is the main leader of the local church. They have more responsibility placed on their shoulders than anyone else in the church. They not only have pastoral oversight but at the end of the day they are the boss or manager, whichever sounds nicer for you.

As a Youth Pastor I don’t know half of what is coming across the desk of my Senior Pastor. I don’t know the issues he is dealing with most weeks. I know the main things he has responsibility for and what he is up to but whatever it is it’s a lot more than what I have to deal with. This doesn’t minimise any of the issues, problems, or challenges I have as a Youth Pastor. But, one of those particular tasks as a Senior Pastor is pastoral team management, which includes me as Youth Pastor. But as a Youth Pastor I need to recognise that I don’t have overall responsibility for the church. I have responsibility for part of the church and am committed to the ministry, but even that is under the supervision and leadership of the Senior Pastor.

I hope this has been helpful for you. What kind of relationship do you have with your Senior Pastor? 

11 Things: Life With Jesus

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is the beginning of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. Enjoy.


Some would like to think that being surrounded by the programs, activities, people, books, studies, services, teaching, and social engagements that being a Youth Pastor brings means that life with Jesus would be easy.

Some would like to think that because of the all encompassing nature of being a Youth Pastor, rubbing shoulders with the things and people of God, then life with Jesus would be a breeze. That it would be a constant joy to be involved in so many so called ‘spiritual things’ that a closeness with God would naturally occur.

Some would like to think that a relationship with God would be so easy to sustain through the conversations, events, and teaching opportunities each week. After all, there isn’t the monotony of the 9-5 existence (is that a thing anymore?) and so connecting with God during the day will occur without too much effort.

Um.

Wrong.

Perhaps at one time I would’ve thought it’d be easier to maintain a great relationship with the Lord while doing ministry too. Nothing seems to be further from the truth.

It’s hard.

Youth Pastors, Young Adult Pastors, Student Pastors, they aren’t good at telling people this. They aren’t good at telling people they struggle with faith sometimes. They aren’t good at telling people they lead that they struggle to read the Bible. That they find it hard to bring teaching to life for the students they disciple. They find it hard to confess that the passage they prepared for small group this week was the only part of the Bible they’ve read this week. They find it hard to admit that their prayer life only happens at church things, five minutes before their next meeting or event.

There is the constant pull to be using our time for what seems to be ‘active ministry’. For many Youth Pastors the actual programs and events of the church take up the allocated time allowance they’re paid for. Outside of this there needs to be time found to do adequate preparation, planning, administration, and hopefully time to counsel people as well. The pressure can seem overwhelming, as there seems little time to take stock, reflect, and breath.

Oh, and in all of this connect and commune with God.

Every Youth Pastor knows that connecting and communing with God is their main priority. The difference is in its application. Every Christian knows the need to commune with God regularly. The difference is in its application.

Youth Pastors are no different to anyone else in seeking to walk with God closely in their life. The difference is that because they are surrounded by issues of faith and spirituality each week one would think life with Jesus would be easier.

I suspect we’ve all heard of the date night for couples. This is usually a dedicated week night for the couple to spend time on their own and without any distractions. They may go out, they may stay in. While the date night is great it would also be wrong to believe that this is the only connection for the week. No relationship is sustained because of a two-hour period one night a week. It’s an added extra. It’s a more intentional time, but not one that takes the place of regularly plodding with each other while doing dishes, checking in at the end of the day, or driving to various engagements.

It’s the same when we consider our relationship with Jesus. At times in our walk with Jesus we might be prone to thinking that we simply need to have a date night with Jesus. That is, simply spend a couple hours one night each week and this will bring some sort of sustainable relationship. Unfortunately this is not the case. As those who seek to help lead others in the faith we should be striving to walk with Jesus each and every day.

The priority is there but the application can be lacking. And it’s in the application that makes the difference.

For Youth Pastors it is simply a must to structure our time and day to help our relationship with Jesus. Out of this we can then disciple and lead others in the faith.

Depending on the season I’ve attempted to do a variety of things to help sustain my faith and life with Jesus. Here are a few suggestions, in particular order, if you care to read them.

1. Have a quarterly ‘Read & Reflect Day’

This is a whole day dedicated to reading scripture, praying, journaling, and spending time in silence. During this day I usually take time to run through the calendar of the last three months, writing down everything I’ve achieved. I then turn to the coming three months, writing 3-5 specific goals to aim for.

2. Meet up regularly with someone older in ministry

I’ve generally tried to meet up with people who I respect and who I believe I can learn from. I’ve gone directly to them asking for an hour or so of their time and bring specific topics of discussion to the meeting. Some will call this mentoring, I’d prefer to stick with discipling. If this occurs once every eight weeks or so then that’s great.

3. Structure my Bible reading

I don’t understand people simply opening up their Bible’s and reading whatever they land on. I at least have a plan and seek to work through a book, at least one chapter at a time. For deeper study a commentary alongside this is helpful.

4. Write people’s name on a prayer list

Just grab a piece of paper, write a name that comes to mind, note down a little something about their life you can pray for. Then actually dedicate a set amount of time to praying for that list of people.

5. Set a phone alarm as a reminder to pray

One thing I really appreciate about observing other Christian traditions, and even Islam, is their commitment to praying at set times of the day. Setting your alarm at certain times in the day will help you to stop and remember to pray. If this is done over a period of time a certain rhythm begins to form.

6. Listen to different podcasts

Listening to sermons all the time can get a bit much, but I’ve found listening to a variety of different podcasts can help in life, faith, and ministry. I have podcasts that are for fun and enjoyment, for learning and education, for news and culture, and for faith and ministry.

7. Listen to music

I know some people really enjoy listening to worship music and find themselves refreshed in doing so. Search Spotify for the ‘Hymns for Hipsters’ playlist. You won’t need anything else.

8. Write in a journal

Writing your prayers or thoughts down in a notebook might sound wussy to you. It’s not. All the hipster pastors do it. But the key here is to understand that by writing these prayers and thoughts down will allow you to slow down. In doing this you can take time to pray and gain a clarity of thought you wouldn’t otherwise.

9. Read old, dead authors

Read Spurgeon – He’s fun. Read Calvin. Read Luther. Read Sibbes. Read Edwards. Read Augustine. Read Wesley. Read Whitefield. Read Lloyd-Jones. Read Stott. Read Carey. Read Taylor. Read Barth. Read Bonhoeffer. Read Lewis. Read Owen. Read Aquinas. Read Jay. Read Paton. Read Simeon. Read Gregory. Read their sermons, their writings, or both.

Growing Young – Final Reflections

This is post nine in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfivesixseven, and eight.


Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.

This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.

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From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.

At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.

However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.

Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.

In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.

I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.

First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’

Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.

The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.

I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?

This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.

So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?

  • This book has provided excellent food for thought.
  • It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
  • The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
  • The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
  • It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.

Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.

Further Resources:

The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.

Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials

Book reflection by Trevin Wax